Someone was telling me about this yesterday and I didn’t quite get what I was being told, but Senator Robert Menendez is holding up two of Barack Obama’s key climate/science appointees, John Holdren and Jane Lubchenco, over an unrelated Cuba policy dispute:
The delay — which could end quickly if Menendez dropped his objection or Senate leaders pushed for a floor vote that would require 60 votes to pass — has alarmed environmentalists and scientific experts who strongly back Holdren and Lubchenco.
“Climate change damages our oceans more every day we fail to act,” said Michael Hirshfield, chief scientist for the advocacy group Oceana. “We need these two supremely qualified individuals on the job yesterday.”
Kate Sheppard notes that just last year Menendez thought climate change was “incredibly important.” But apparently not as important as defending America’s insane Cuba policy status quo.
Meanwhile, I would note that even more than the filibuster, the “hold” process in the Senate is an absurd procedural bottleneck that could and should be done away with. People sometimes wonder what the hold rule is, and nobody even really knows. When I was an intern in Chuck Schumer’s office the idea of putting a hold on someone came up, and the office had to scramble to figure out what it means. Turns out that it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just an insane convention that Senate leaders agree to uphold and that Senators as a whole conspire to put in place. But it’s ridiculous. Irrespective of the details of one’s views on Holdren or Cuba it clearly does not serve the general interest to let random appointees be held up by random Senators for no real reason. All it does, ultimately, is feed the egomania and power-lust that seems to afflict every single senator. But it’s time for some members of the body to put their substantive policy commitments ahead of their wacky perks of office and start pushing for the kind of substantial procedural reforms that will make it possible for the Senate to tackle major issues in a serious way.
Relatedly, it’s annoying to read things about how it “would require 60 votes to pass” a resolution confirming these nominees. If you look through United States history, plenty of bills and plenty of nominees have been passed with more than 49 but fewer than 60 votes. Similarly, in the pre-seventies era of the 67-person cloture vote plenty of bills passed with fewer than 67 votes. Throughout the nineteenth century it required unanimity to break a filibuster, but that didn’t mean that bills all passes unanimously. It also “requires” 60 votes to pass things if we accept the premise that the filibuster should be used routinely. That has not, however, been the historical understanding of the filibuster. The speed with which Washington has accepted the idea of a routine supermajority requirement is a little bit frightening as it was just a few years ago that this started to be put into place.